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Weekly Reads: Best of the Best Weeks 30 through 35 (Part 1)

 **Welcome to Weekly Reads! Each Monday I’ll share reviews for my most recent reads. For more reviews, please visit my page, The Reads: From A to Z.**

Hope y’all are ready, it’s going to be a long one! We have a lot to catch up on, and as hard as I tried to cut it down, there’s something to say about each one of the following works – some good, some bad, mostly jaw-shocking writing that I absolutely can’t ignore. There have been an amazing number of new releases this summer, and in my opinion, all fantastic reads! So settle in, maybe grab a coffee (or cocktail), and have your TBR ready for updates!

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Dark Matter by Blake Crouch

One second Jason is out on an ice cream run for family night and the next he’s knocked unconscious by an eerily familiar voice asking him, of all things, “Are you happy with your life?” He wakes surrounded by doctors in hazmat suits, by a man claiming to be his colleague and friend, at a state of the art, top-secret lab HE built, but he’s just a college professor, how could any of this be true? What if you woke to a world not your own, what if you could go back and rewrite your life – from that one pivotal moment where everything changed, when every decision you made mattered most, would you be happier if things had turned out differently?

“We’re more than the sum total of our choices, that all the paths we might have taken factor somehow into the math of our identity.”

“I’ve seen so many versions of you. With me. Without me. Artist. Teacher. Graphic designer. But it’s all, in the end, just life. We see it macro, like one big story, but when you’re in it, it’s all just day-to-day, right? And isn’t that what you have to make your peace with?”

Dark Matter, while exploring the wondrous depth and horrifying reality of alternate realities, truly explores the meaning of life. What matters most to you? What if you could change your life – would you be happier? Jason is given this choice, many times over, and each and every time he chooses the same: his wife, his son, his family. He chooses love when given the choice between a menial job he sometimes hates, but the love of a family, or a lonely life as an esteemed physicist on the brink of a world-changing discovery. To reach the ones he loves, he’ll have to confront the deepest caverns of his soul, pushing the boundaries of time and space, making the impossible possible. Reading Blake Crouch for several years now, Dark Matter definitely lived up to, and wildly surpassed, my expectations. Not only an expert world builder and story teller, always fine-tuning even the smallest of details, Crouch takes you on an unbelievable ride that will leave you in awe and asking yourself, “Are you happy with your life?”

Rating: 5 Stars      Goodreads

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Maestra by L.S. Hilton

Judith is chasing her dreams, finally working as an assistant at a prestigious London auction house, but when she alerts her boss to a possible fraud, she’s the one with the boot? Leaning on her side job at one of London’s less esteemed champagne bars, trouble seems to follow as she makes a side trip to the French Riviera with one of her illustrious clients.

“Choices are made before explanations, whether or not we care to know it.”

There is so much more to Maestra than a simple art conspiracy. Judith is an extremely complicated character. Working a menial job with a seemingly fancy title, she’s reduced to rubble at work, always taking the blame and lowering herself to others, but in reality, Judith is a powerful woman, in and out of the bedroom. For once we’re given a strong female character who not only enjoys sex, but relies on it as a source for power – and not because she has daddy issues or some underlying trauma to work out, but purely because she enjoys it. She has an amazing ability to charm those around her, which lucky for her, works to her advantage as she quickly leaps from art conspiracy to murder. Her journey will have you traveling across the luxuries of Europe one yacht to another while all the while keeping you on the edge of your seat.

Rating: 4 Stars      Goodreads

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The Girls in the Garden by Lisa Jewell

After their father has a psychotic break, Claire moves her daughters to a quaint apartment off a community garden. It’s the perfect place to raise the girls, charming neighbors and plenty of other children in the neighborhood – what could go wrong?

The Girls in the Garden will take you by surprise, lead you down a well-known path, and just when you think you know who attacked young Grace, it’ll take a twist so dark, you’ll never see it coming. From the very start, each neighbor’s introduction is woven with gossip and suspicion, creating a false sense of familiarity that will keep you guessing ’til very last page.

Rating: 3 Stars      Goodreads

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Under the Harrow by Flynn Berry

Nora often visits her sister on the weekends, taking the train from London to the small rural town where she lives, walking to the house and opening the door to find a lavish dinner and a glass of wine at the ready, but this trip is different. Instead, Nora enters the house to find blood at the base of the stairs and her sister brutally murdered. She’d been assaulted in the past, perhaps the key to solving the crime lies in the past? Nora struggles to understand the secrets left behind, the little clues her sister left, quickly turning her fears into a nightmare, into a horrifying obsession.

“Rachel knew I blamed myself for what happened to her in Snaith, and that I wanted things to be even. Whatever that meant. I wished I hadn’t told her.”

Under the Harrow is, to me, the psychological thriller of the summer. Haunted by the memories of her sister and plagued by grief, Nora’s journey explores the twisted realities in grief, how it can easily distort everything you think you know. Suddenly a once flippant comment takes on a whole new meaning, transferring itself into fear, into a deadly obsession to find the truth.

Rating: 4 Stars     Goodreads

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A World Without You by Beth Revis

A World Without You explores the dichotomy between perception and reality. Toeing that line between sanity and madness, seventeen year old Bo believes he has the power to move through time, but without a stern control, a fun, quick trip to the past leaves his girlfriend Sofia stranded in Salem during the infamous witch trials. Desperate to bring her back, he tries again and again to find her in time, or any time, just see her again as he slowly realizes his school is not for teens with special abilities, but a school for children with special needs. Will he finally succumb to his psychosis beyond hope, or will he brave the harsh reality of his illness, the first step in a long road to recovery?

“You never know all of a person; you only know them in a specific moment of time.”

A World Without You, while highly unique and nothing short of intriguing, did not live up to the pedestal I’d built for it. After reading Neal Shusterman’s Challenger Deep, I had amazing expectations for this story and couldn’t help but compare the two novels as I was reading. Bo’s struggle is real and his journey truly harrowing, but the story is muddied behind pages and pages of repetitive plot twists. His realization doesn’t even come into play until the last 50 or so pages of the book. So much emphasis is placed on this point in the story, but by the time it happens the book is over and we’re left with a scant recap on how his treatment has changed. But where the story lacks for Bo, it only grows stronger for his sister Phoebe. As his world crashes down around him, Phoebe struggles to juggle life with and without Bo as he flip flops between the school and home, all the while trying her best to live up to her role as the “normal” sibling. While her story lacks major plot points, Phoebe undergoes the most growth, but only after her bond with Bo is reborn. Together they are stronger, and a life without family is only a life of madness.

Rating: 3 Stars      Goodreads

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Bird Box by Josh Malerman

Imagine a world where a monster is standing right next to you, breathing on you, smelling you…it could be doing anything, it could BE anything, but you can’t look. One peek, and you’ll die. This is the only world Malorie’s two children have known, a world that came to be in when she first found out she was pregnant, but now that the children are four, it’s time to take them to safety. Only one blindfolded boat journey away…

“In a world where you can’t open your eyes, isn’t a blindfold all you could ever hope for?”

Bird Box is truly terrifying. I’m not one for horror stories, so that may not mean much, but a world where you can’t look outside, not even one peek, is terrifying! They have no idea what the “monster” even is. All they know is one glance and the seer is overcome by a violent rage that ends with their death. Between the mystery and the overwhelming hysteria created, Malories journey will keep you at the edge of your seat!

Rating: 4 Stars      Goodreads

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The Muse by Jessie Burton

Since emigrating from Trinidad to London five years ago, life hasn’t quite lived up to expectations for Odelle Bastien, that is until she lands a job at the highly esteemed Skelton gallery. Though only a young typist, she’s taken under wing by her glamorous superior Marjorie Quick, whose mysterious assistance unleashes a new-found confidence she didn’t know she had, a confidence she’ll surely need to solve the mysterious origins of a lost masterpiece with a secret history.

“As an image it was simple and at the same time not easily decipherable – a girl, holding another girl’s severed head in her hands on one side of the painting, and on the other, a lion, sitting on his haunches, not yet springing for the kill. It had the air of a fable.”

Highly anticipated, The Muse did not paint the startling, or jaw-dropping, scene I had imagined. Instead, I was given a distracting narrative interwoven with the seductive love triangle between Olive Schloss, the daughter of a renowned art dealer, and the mysterious painter Isaac Robles. I couldn’t help but be distracted by Odelle – nothing about her story really fit with me. Her narration was a pretentious retelling of her life, often mismatching broken English with poetic language as she unfolds the mystery that carried her through her life’s “reconfiguration”.  Though I can appreciate her beautiful writing, I felt it was Jessie Burton narrating and not truly Odelle, ultimately undercutting any and all character growth she was given.  I gladly skipped 100 pages through the middle and didn’t miss a beat – the true story belongs to Olive, with all the deception and suspense a love story could ever promise.

Rating: 3 Stars      Goodreads

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We Could Be Beautiful by Swan Huntley

Catherine West has lived a life of luxury. Growing up on Manhattan’s east side, daily massages, expensive clothing…. she has it all, except love. Until she meets a familiar face at an art gallery, an old friend of the family by chance. He’s charming with expensive taste and an ease to that makes her weak in the knees. But love comes at a price, the only question is how much?

“You can be in the same rut for so long, and then, seemingly out of nowhere, everything changes and you remember what the point is. The point, of course, is love. To love someone, to be loved by someone: that is the point.”

I have to admit, I saw the plot twist a mile away, but I still finished and enjoyed We Could Be Beautiful anyways. Catherine is a character that you will hate – she know’s she’s over-privileged, and she really wants to care about you too, but it’s hard. Even so, I couldn’t help but want to know more, to see more of her world and how it would change. And oh does it change.

Rating: 3 Stars      Goodreads

What have you been reading lately? Stay tuned for Part 2 next week!

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